[JURIST] An Islamic court in Malaysia [JURIST news archive] ruled Thursday that a Buddhist woman who converted to Islam should be allowed to return to her original faith. The ruling is unusual in Malaysia, which has both secular and Sharia courts; Sharia courts rarely allow converts to renounce Islam, a fact which has led to tensions with the country's minority religions. Religious rights groups hailed the decision as a landmark ruling for interfaith relations. AP has more.
Last year, Malaysia's Federal Court rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by a woman who sought to change her religious affiliation on her government registration card from Islam to Christianity. Approximately 58 percent of Malaysia's population of 26 million are ethnic Malays, generally Muslims who fall under the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts. The remaining 40 percent of the population are mainly ethnic Chinese, indigenous, or Indian, and are generally Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or Taoist/Confucian falling under the jurisdiction of civil courts. The Malaysian constitution [text] has been interpreted to regard all ethnic Malays as Muslim, because Islam is considered to be an intrinsic component of the ethnic identity. Malaysia is officially a secular state, but it recognizes Islam as the official religion.